A brief diversion from poker to cover “The Wire”

First of all, let me get this one thing out of the way.   The Wire is the best television show ever made.  Not just good, the best.  Some of you think that M.A.S.H. or The Sopranos or some other show is the best, but you are wrong.  If you haven’t watched The Wire or you tried to catch a few shows two or three seasons in and you couldn’t make sense of it, you are excused for not knowing this.  If you have watched them all and you don’t agree, you are simply wrong and are no longer permitted to vote on matters of taste.  Also if you aren’t obsessed like me and haven’t seen everything but the season finale already (I watch the episodes as soon as they get loaded to pay per view), don’t keep reading.  I’m sure I’ll give stuff away that you won’t see until Sunday.

Watching The Wire hurtle towards its grand finale and reflecting back on the conclusion of The Sopranos makes me much more confident in my appraisal.  Remember all the capital D drama that they used when a main character got hit on that show?  Compare the melodrama surrounding the hit on Christopher with the way Omar got killed on The Wire.  As Clay Davis would say in his awesome rolling baritone,  Sheeeee-it, there is no comparison.  I say this as a huge fan of Tony and the gang — they aren’t close to what The Wire does week in and week out.

One of the most effective devices used by The Wire is demonstrating the parallels from one organization or character to another.  In Season One, they showed us (to great effect) that the complex criminal enterprise of the Barksdale drug dealing crew was remarkably similar to the enterprise of the Police Department.  This year, they have done the same with the newsroom.  In years past they have shown the tragic failings of the political system, the educational system and trade unions.  In every case, there are smart and likable people who usually start out with a goal to make things better, but the constraints of the system they operate within conspire to thwart those ambitions and serve to highlight the worst of their greed and ambitions.  The idealistic Mayor becomes as much a part of the problem as his predecessor, the heroes are all flawed.  The scenes where you watch Bubbles emerging from his tragic life interspersed with his young doppleganger Dukie starting down that same path are as powerful, tragic and moving as anything I’ve watched in my life.

I think this nuance of character is what makes the show so great.  Detective McNulty is as close as we have to a hero in the story.  He is the guy who most represents the struggles against the oppressive bureaucracy that is one of the main villains in the Wire (the most notable others being poverty, greed and ambition).  He is the guy who goes outside the system and makes things happen.  But he is also an enormous fuck-up.  He’s a womanizer, a drunk and this season has concocted the most outrageous web of lies and nonsense that will probably lead to his own tragic end.  The drug dealers themselves aren’t any one thing — they are a lot of things at once.  Some are greedy and ruthless, but most are nuanced and complex, just like you and me.  In one of the less subtle moments of the show, Dukie realized there was no alternative path for him — you make it within the game defined by the drug trade or you don’t have a place.  This undoubtedly is overly simplistic, but they do a great job of showing that many of the drug gangs are the best and brightest kids in that environment — adaptive kids who learn the rules of the game and beat it.

I have my concerns with the new season.  Some of the characters are a bit one dimensional.  For instance, the editor Gus might as well have a halo.  He is so much the perfect, saintly news guy that it seems a bit beneath the usual standard for the show.  The fake serial killer plot is a bit contrived, but just like Hamsterdam I’m willing to overlook it because it is a plot device that drives the drama where it wants to go.  Sure, it is probably a bit far-fetched, but damn if it doesn’t do a great job of exposing things and people for what they are.  My mind was not made up on this season until Omar got got and the next to last episode just blew me away.  It is TV for the thinking man.  Where else will you see someone drop references to Euripides and use “Dickensian” ironically?    I’m going to be so sad when it ends.  With the conclusion of The Wire, The Sopranos and the untimely demise of Deadwood, I’m not sure what HBO has for me now.


Riding the rollercoaster.

I’ve been a bit up and down since I last posted an update. Mostly, I’ve been focused on a variety of personal issues getting ready for the house update. I’ve played a bit more on Stars and some on Cake, just to check it out. ITHers find Cake uber-soft and it seems to be true thus far. I’ll post the complete (and ugly) details at month-end.  I think I’m down like $500 on the month.

I got berated by another player at Stars today. It was a 15/30 table and I didn’t know the guy:

PokerStars 15/30 Hold’em (9 handed) Poker Stars

Preflop: Hero is BB with :Ks, :7s. CO posts a blind of $15.
2 folds, MP1 calls, 2 folds, CO (poster) raises, 2 folds, Hero calls, MP1 calls.

Assuming the poster is solid, he is probably raising a massive range here.  The open limp with a poster is very weak, so isolating MP1 with position is pretty obviously good for CO.  Also, he’s a bit of a LAG.  I don’t know MP1 (this is my first hand, too), but he has been tight for the last five hands or so while I waited for the blind.

Flop: (6.66 SB) :Ts, :Kc, :7d (3 players)
Hero checks, MP1 checks, CO bets, Hero raises, MP1 calls, CO calls.

Super-jackpot!  Two pair is super vulnerable here, so I’m raising 100% of the time.  If CO has AK or KQ, I might get a big pot out of him and maybe trap MP1.  Unbeknownst to me,  MP1 has a set of tens and is trapping me.

Turn: (6.33 BB) :2h (3 players)
Hero bets
, MP1 calls, CO folds.

Here the set of tens gives up a ton of value.  He might get to cap here against my actual hand.  You could make a case for playing the flop slow, but the turn is a clear mistake.  

River: (8.33 BB) :Kd (2 players)
Hero bets
, MP1 raises, Hero 3-bets, MP1 caps, Hero calls.

I figured him for a King all along, so his raise didn’t really concern me.  When he capped, I worried for a second about KT, but if the poker gods had that in store for me, so be it.

Final Pot: 16.33 BB

Results below:
Hero has :Ks :7s (full house, kings full of sevens).
MP1 has :Tc :Th (full house, tens full of kings).
Outcome: Hero wins 16.33 BB.

This hand apparently tilted MP1, because the next hand reported:
MP1: folds
MP1 leaves the table

Fair enough.  That had to hurt.  The weird part comes about 12 hands later, when he pops up on observer chat.  He says something about what a bad play I made and the idiocy of playing K7.  Then he tells me I’m a marked man and he’s going to be looking for me.  I just say “Have a nice day!”  I don’t know if tilting is worse or slowplaying is worse, but it will be interesting to see if he stalks me.

The new PokerTracker3 beta is out and they have added a ton of cool new features, so I’m going to play with that some more.  I’ll report on the details after I get some time to mess with it.


I’m not sure how this relates to poker

But I’m sure it does:


Turn raises

Terry Borer is the guest expert on ITH today and he has posted in an interesting thread about turn raises and what they represent. His book suggested that turn raises are top pair or better a very high percentage of the time. The book suggests it may be as high as 94% of the time. My instinct was that I saw bluffs far more often than that. A few people posted statistics and it appears that it was top pair or better as low as 64% or the time in the bluffiest sample. My own numbers showed it at about 74% of the time. It presents a dilemma, since when you have a hand like JJ on a KT42 board on the turn, you will have to pay two more bets to get to the river when someone raises the turn so at 74% the pot has to be 9 bets to make it mathematically worthwhile. In the typical heads-up pot where you suspect a bluff, it will rarely be that big. Many of the non-top pair hands were on scary boards like paired or flush possible boards, so I think the lesson is to tend to let it go on dry boards with no semi-bluff possibilities. Despite that fact, I usually want to call. Here is a tragic hand from tonight where I caught the guy bluffing on the turn, yet still ended badly:

PokerStars 15/30 Hold’em (8 handed)

Preflop: Hero is MP2 with :6s, :6d.
1 fold, UTG+1 raises, MP1 calls, Hero calls, 4 folds.
UTG+1 is quite loose and something of an action player, so I make a loose call here.

Flop: (7.66 SB) :4s, :Kc, :6h (3 players)
UTG+1 bets, MP1 calls, Hero calls.
Bingo. The board is quite drawless and a King high flop is unlikely to have hit UTG+1, so I just play it slow, hoping to trap MP1 for a big bet on the turn.

Turn: (5.33 BB) :9d (3 players)
UTG+1 bets, MP1 folds, Hero raises, UTG+1 3-bets, Hero caps, UTG+1 calls.
Does his turn raise mean top pair or better? Mine does. I think there is a really good chance that he is sitting on AK when he 3 bets, so I’m happy to cap it here.

River: (13.33 BB) :Js (2 players)
UTG+1 bets, Hero calls.
The Jack doesn’t really change anything, since I don’t see it changing our positions, but leading after I capped is a very strong play. I don’t want to get three bet by KK, so I just call after a pretty long pause. It turns out the call was better, but I was shocked by why…

Final Pot: 15.33 BB
Results in white below:
UTG+1 has Qc Td (straight, king high).
Hero has 6s 6d (three of a kind, sixes).
Outcome: UTG+1 wins 15.33 BB.

Of course, this is getting perilously close to a bad beat story, but it is really about what a turn raise really means.  After the discussion and data analysis on ITH, I never figured I would see a turn 3-bet with a gutshot.  What a crazy game!

I only played about an hour last night and won a grand total of $50.  Go me!  Its still a brutal month on total, but I think I’m playing much better now.  I need 750 more VPPs to hit my goal, which should be very easy to do.  Once I hit my monthly goal, I may check out Cake Poker.  A lot of the ITHers are trying to get me to take a shot over there.  I guess they think I’m a big ole fish.


If I had your hand and you had mine, what would happen?

I have played almost no poker since the last update. I woke up at 2AM this morning and have been playing for half an hour or so. Action is slow, so I’m playing 10/20 on Stars at the moment. I got in a funny situation on the table there. There was a player to my right who I marked as a target almost as soon as I sat down. He was short-stacked and got to the river on a drawless board with $5 left. The pot was something like $140 and he folded for his last $5. Given that there were no draws, this made no sense to me and I concluded he was probably a mark. Soon thereafter I raised with KK and he led all three streets on an Ace high board with 55 unimproved. This pretty well sealed my opinion of him. That led to this fairly standard hand:

PokerStars 10/20 Hold’em (9 handed)

Preflop: Hero is Button with :Kh, :Ts.
4 folds, MP3 raises, 1 fold, Hero 3-bets, 2 folds, MP3 calls.

Flop: (7.50 SB) :Th, :Tc, :As (2 players)
MP3 checks, Hero bets, MP3 calls.

Turn: (4.75 BB) :7h (2 players)
MP3 checks, Hero bets, MP3 calls.

River: (6.75 BB) :7c (2 players)
MP3 bets, Hero raises, MP3 calls.

Final Pot: 10.75 BB
MP3 shows :Ac :8s (two pair, aces and tens).
Hero has :Kh :Ts (full house, tens full of sevens).
Outcome: Hero wins 10.75 BB.

I would usually not 3 bet with KTo against someone I respect, although I might do it against a person I thought was raising too light since I have position and might take down a lot of the pots where we both miss. I don’t even think he played the hand badly, although A8o is a pretty light raise there and calling the river raise is spew, since the worst hand I could have there is a better Ace than him. Maybe there is a 10% chance of a bluff there in his mind, but there really isn’t against a decent player in that spot. In fact, I’d never raise anything worse than a ten there. This hand sent him into a fairly amusing rant exchange with me:

He said, “lmAO”
He said, “U LUCKY DIDE”
He said, “U NO THIS”
I said, “I’m a lucky guy”
He said, “U SUCK”
I said, “Nah, I think I suck too”
I said, “I only figured out where the caps lock key is yesterday”
He said, “I ALWAYS CAPS”

At this point he was all in for his last few bucks and he was gone at the end of the hand.

This reminded somehow of something I read a long time ago from Tommy Angelo (I think). He proposed a good way to think about poker that I have used ever since I read it. He pointed out that you can’t control when you get good cards and when you get bad cards, you can only control how you play them. He suggested that when you review your hands you consider how much you would have won or lost if your cards had been reversed. The difference between those results is your edge in the game because eventually you will get both sides of every possible situation. For example, if our roles were reversed in that hand, I would not have lost any money because I would have folded A8 there. I hate weak Aces. Even if I somehow played it, I would not have lost that extra bet on the river. Those bets are my edge against that player. There is a player who I see all the time at Stars who often gets the best of me. I have been reviewing all of our hands together to try to formulate a better strategy for dealing with him and I realized when I was doing that he was playing better than me using Tommy’s method. He was getting more money when he had good hands and losing less when he didn’t. It helped me find the right adjustments, we’ll see if the results follow.

Anyhow, I’m probably going to try to get some work done soon and sit out. I’m up about $300 as I write thing and just shy of 9,000 VPPs. I’ve clicked off auto-post, so assuming nothing dramatic happens in the last few hands that should be where I end up.


Slow poker day

Today was primarily dedicated to making remodeling decisions on the house and building a spreadsheet to track just how screwed I am.  The first item we discussed was the appliances for the kitchen and I think we’re $4,000 over budget on that line item.  That does not bode well for the project.  Its kinda frustrating because our designer insists we need to replace the fridge, which is approximately brand new.  Apparently it sticks out from the edge of the counter, which is completely unacceptable.  Although in my informal survey of everyone I know, all refrigerators stick out past the counters. Grrr.

I did manage to play a few hands of poker and won $450 in a small number of hands.  I have 8,700 VPPs for February thus far.  I was up slightly in NL when I got it all-in pre-flop with QQ against AA but flopped my set.


Good news / bad news

I played a lot better yesterday.  I was recognizing the flow of the game better and I’m pretty sure I corrected most of the leaks I was working on.  Unfortunately, this didn’t translate into winning money, as I dropped $500 or so.  Nonetheless, I’m pretty confident that I was playing better.

I actually donked around in some tourneys yesterday.  I played the Sunday Million, which accounted for $215 in losses and I also played the 10,000 FPP $2 million prize pool special event.  The value of that tourney was an overlay compared to the usual FPP redemptions, but I didn’t win anything.  I was on a decent stack (near average) as the bubble approached when I got AK on the button.  I shoved over an early raiser and we were racing when he called me with middle pair.  I couldn’t connect and now I was a short stack.  A couple of hands later, I found 22 first in and shoved my remaining chips.  I was called by something weak like Q8, but he hit one of his cards and I lost that race too.  Two quick coinflips and I was out.  I actually won $7.50 because several of us agreed to share 10% of anything we won and one of the four cashed and send me a few bucks (go Toro!)

I’m now up to 8,400 VPPs for the month, so all is well in terms of the number of hands.


Sometimes you run bad, but usually you play bad.

There is a flaw common to many of us as poker players.  We tend to think we are better than we are.  When we win, we accept it as our natural due and when we lose we tend to blame bad luck.  Certainly, luck is involved especially when you look at day by day results or even week by week (if you don’t play an insane number of hands).  However, as a rule, poker players who are losing money are far, far more likely to be playing poorly than any other reason.  I’m not complaining about the self-delusional possibilities of poker — in fact, they are the essence of why poker is a good game.  If the bad players ever figured out that the bulk of their losses come from mistakes and not from bad luck, it would be bad news for everyone.

With that in mind, I’ve had a terrible run lately.  When I experienced it, I was pretty sure that it was just because I was unlucky.  I can even point to a couple of hands where I did in fact, get very unlucky.  However, it is quite clear to me upon reviewing my hand histories that the overwhelming reason for my losses is that I was playing badly.  I should have lost money due to bad luck, it is true.  But I should have lost a whole lot less money.  And that has nothing to do with luck and everything to do with me.  It is clear to me that I’ve become a bit of a calldown monkey.  I’ve been calling down with any piece of the board and not playing aggressively when I’m doing so.  Passive post-flop play is a sure recipe for trouble.  Paying bets on the turn and on the river when you know you are beat is a another.  A few of the hand histories I’ve looked at have me scratching my head in total bafflement.  I just cannot imagine what in the world I was thinking in some of those hands.

However, it is critical to your success that you not only identify when your losses are caused by your mistakes, but that you dedicate yourself to correcting your mistakes.  Since my mistakes are pretty obvious, I think I should be able to make the right adjustments.  I’ve been playing a bit of no limit to get my head back on straight while I analyze my limit mistakes and so far that is going well again.  In fact, I’m up nearly $1,000 at the NL tables, which offsets my losses at limit.  I’ve dropped just over $2,000 since the last blog update, including a -$3,500 day!  A lot of my losses were at a good 30/60 table that got short-handed and I handled badly.  My net for the month is now around -$1,000, so I’m fairly certain to fall short of the profit goal for the month.  I’m still doing OK with the number of hands, since I’ve got about 7,500 VPPs and plenty of days left to play.


The state of online poker today

In the pre-UIGEA days, I used to be able to find dozens of full tables of 15/30 and 30/60 at any hour of the day or night at good old PartyPoker.  Often, these tables were populated with some amazingly poor players.  You saw new faces every single day.  Part of this is explained by the fact that it was trivial to sign up with a million different skins or to obtain new accounts or new names, but that doesn’t explain the much higher number of active tables.  Last night, I was weary from a long and unpleasant day at the office and went to bed early without playing any poker.  As is often the case, this meant that I woke up around 4:00am.  Hoping to catch the night shift crowd, I fired up PokerStars.  To my dismay there was almost no action.  The biggest semi-full table was 10/20 and there were only a handful of short-handed games at 15/30 and 30/60 and they were mostly populated by players I know to be pretty solid.  This depressed me.

There are two main reasons for the decline.  The first and most maddening is obviously the UIGEA.  By closing many of the poker sites and choking off the sources of easy deposit and withdrawal transactions, the feds scared a lot of people away from online poker.  I’ve railed about this before, so I guess there is no point in repeating my rant, but every time I’m confronted with this change in the landscape, I feel annoyed all over again at the legislation and the grandstanding legislators who wrought it.  I talked about this a bit to Matthew at Sharkapalooza 2 and I’m also annoyed at myself.  I followed good bankroll management and did not pursue the bigger games when I knew they were soft.  In the end, I don’t need the money from poker and I should have played the bigger games when they were so juicy.  I spent $10,000 on the WSOP Main Event last year when I obviously don’t have the bankroll to play 10k events on a regular basis, because I wanted the experience.  Given my willingness to light 10k on fire, I should have played the bigger games when they looked juicy.  They will never again be that good.  I might play some of the bigger games on Stars when they look good, but they won’t be as good as they were back in the day.

The second reason, of course, is the rise of No Limit cash games.  NL tourneys were always big, but cash game specialists were fewer in the old days.  All of the biggest games in poker were limit games.  Back then, the $100/$200 limit ring game at Stars was the biggest game that ran on a regular basis.  Of course, that has all changed today and there are some real nosebleed stakes being played today, especially on Full Tilt.  The real action today is at the cash no limit tables.  There are a lot of players at the $600 and $1000 tables who look to me to be making serious fundamental errors.  I don’t even think I’m that good at NL, but I know that I am better than a lot of people I see on those tables.  In the wee hours last night, when the limit tables were pretty dead, action on the NL tables was still rocking and rolling.  I considered sitting down at some of them, but I just didn’t feel enthused about that effort.  As a result, I got in no hands and earned no money and no VPPs.  C’est la vie.


I haven’t been doing enough opposition research lately

It occurred to me that I really haven’t been spending enough time reviewing my sessions and analyzing my opponents lately.  I got to devote a little bit of time to that project late last night when I couldn’t sleep and I feel like it helped me make better decisions already today.  I think I found better spots to bluff and made a few more folds in situations where I was calling down before.  I really think that careful analysis of the other players is one of my strengths and I feel like I have gotten away from that a bit.  I was winning and really just playing more on auto-pilot.  I didn’t get a whole lot of hands in tonight, but I won about $450 and I’m at 6,100 VPPs.